Madonna House

A Sad and Glad Christmas

by Catherine Doherty

Our foundress wrote this Christmas letter to her Madonna House family in 1976. It was prophetic: her words are even truer now than they were then.

I want you, with a desire that is almost too hard to bear, to face Christmas and the New Year in the peace of Our Lord. At the same time, I want you to be armed with cords to chase the moneylenders out of the temple.

I visualize you going first to Bethlehem, pilgrimaging in what I call poverty. So make a pilgrimage, a pilgrimage that is not by foot, by train, by plane, or by bus, but a pilgrimage of the heart.

Your feet will stay where they are now, where the Lord wants them to be, and your hands will be working at what he wants you to work at. But your heart will journey forth to Bethlehem.

Don’t for a moment think that it is going to be an easy road; Bethlehem is not an easy place to reach today. You will have to pass through war zones, and you will have to especially pass through the hatred of man to man.

You have to go, as it were, two by two, in the peace of God. Do not be afraid of anything because the only thing men can do is take your life away. But death, as you know, is a new life. So go without fear, in a faith that beggars understanding. It will have to be with that kind of faith this Christmas.

You will have to arm yourself indeed with that faith, for every step of the pilgrimage in our world today requires faith.

You might board an airplane thinking it will take you to Montreal, but it might be hijacked and take you to strange regions instead.

But you will be at peace, and so shall I, because we shall go on pilgrimage via our hearts to the greatest mystery ever conceived, namely God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, incarnating himself and becoming man for the love of us.

When we reach Bethlehem our hearts will fall and adore him quite naturally, and we will understand how the crèche that was made of wood blends with the cross that was made of wood.

And in standing before the Child in that crèche that will change its shape in time to come, we will understand that this is our life, too. We too are in a crèche; we too are really journeying to a cross; we too follow in his footsteps.

Let this year be one of tremendous hope and gratitude because, you see, we have a key. We have Christ. He was there before us. He was there hanging on that cross to which we will have to pilgrim after we leave Bethlehem. And as extraordinary as this might seem, he is the key to the Resurrection.

So we go from pilgrimage to pilgrimage; the pilgrimage of baptism, the pilgrimage of realizing the Incarnation, the pilgrimage of going to the cross to be crucified on it. Then suddenly, suddenly we will know, knowing with the knowledge of faith that no one can take away from us, that really there won’t be any crucifixion.

His cross for us will be a marriage bed, in a mystical manner of speaking, but above all we hold the key to it, and the key will open it, and we shall walk in his Resurrection.

We shall be in it, and we shall know it. He is amongst us. He is with us! He is with us! He is with us!

So face Christmas, dearly beloved, wherever you are at the moment, and also the New Year, with the tremendous virtue that we almost forget. The virtue of hope.

The world might fall apart, and probably will, but it doesn’t really matter, because we are going to put it together again.

Yes, we, the unimportant ones. We, the little ones. We the anawim*. We, theurodivi** of Dostoyevsky. We, the unlearned ones.

We the loving ones, we the believing ones, we the hopeful ones will bring it back perhaps in a better shape than it has been before. We don’t know.

But at no time should we enter a bleak despair even though we know that tomorrow might bring the deluge.

So what! We get wet! We build ourselves a little something (I don’t know how good our carpenters are. Can they build something like Noah did or are we going to have a series of little boats? We don’t care.) So it’s all right. It’s all right.

Truly the Lord has given us hope. Hold on to it! Hold on to it, no matter what! Hold on to it! And hold on to faith for the pilgrimage of a lifetime.

Faith is a strange thing. It’s something that you enter. Something you have that is given to you by God. But it’s something that you can enlarge only by praying to God to enlarge it.

And so, like the woman who had the loss of blood, stick to the hem of his garment and tug on it periodically and say, “Give me a little more faith, please.”

And he will. Power will go out of him and it will enter your heart.

Christmas is going to be sad this year. Sad and glad. We cannot forget all the terrible things that are happening in the world right now. War is before our eyes everywhere. We have to face it, but we must face it with prayer.

A pilgrim is a prayer. Always remember that the pilgrim does not pray, he is a prayer. That’s a real pilgrim. He learns it slowly.

So, my dearly beloved, wherever you are, be a prayer and bring yourself to Christ. That will be your pilgrimage to Bethlehem. You will bring yourself, that is, you will bring a prayer to him in your person.

There is no room anymore for childish dialogues, although there will be a time, of course, when you become yourself, as he is himself, and you play with his little hands and you throw little balls at him or have some supper. And Our Lady will be very hospitable.

But this is imagination. Do you realize that one of the greatest tragedies of this world, at least our Canadian-American world, is that we have left the imagination behind and we have taken facts as if they were the alpha and the omega.

Sure, facts are facts, and we need them, but who cares only about the facts? Sure it’s interesting to know that 2 and 2 make 4, but I’m not going to spend my lifetime thinking about this unless I’m a mathematician.

And so you see there is an essence that I want to give you. I want to give you the desire of the Desired One. And if you go to Bethlehem, I also want to give you childlikeness. Not childishness, but childlikeness. It’s impossible not to be childlike with the Child Jesus.

But then there are other moments. And you look at this Infant, for He was there in ages past, physically I mean, and you adore him.

Yes, enter the New Year with hope … and with faith.

Pray for faith constantly and continue to pray for it. It opens itself like the half of an apple, and you walk into it and it grows, and it grows, and it grows! And now you begin to understand that you can do nothing, but he can do all things in you and with you.

So, in total simplicity, in absolute childlikeness, in the faith that sings of your desire for him; in a love that also sings and celebrates; and in a hope that is untarnished, face Christmas and this New Year. Face them without fear because who or what is there to be afraid of when the Lord is with you?

Happy Christmas to you. Even though the whole world is falling apart, it can still be a happy Christmas because you see, he came to make it so. As to the New Year, it is yours to shape in Christ or outside of Him. If you do it in him, it will be a good year.

May the grace of Our Lord, and especially the love of Our Lady and St. Joseph, be with you during this tremendous season.